MEXICO CITY (AP) — As nations from around the globe battle in the World Cup, a more unusual soccer championship has just been decided on a hard court in Mexico's capital.
For 18 years, the men of the Ignacio Trigueros Soccer League for the Blind and Visually Impaired have spent Sundays traveling long distances from their homes to central Mexico City to play the country's most popular sport.
Each six-man team is allowed one sighted player or two visually impaired players who can use their eyes on the court. All other players wear blindfolds to make sure they are evenly matched.
Without their eyes to guide them, they rely on the sound of a special ball ricocheting off the boards that surround the court or is rolling at their feet. Risking collisions and falls, the players pass, shoot, defend and occasionally even slide tackle.
When the league started, players used a soda can filled with pebbles to make noise, said Miguel Angel Canela, who plays goalkeeper for the Italia team. Then they began putting ball bearings into store-bought soccer balls.
Today, Canela, a 51-year-old industrial mechanic who lost his sight in a work-related accident at age 23, makes the special balls from scratch using a mold in his home workshop.
Jose Luis Molina, 44, a lifelong athlete who lost his sight at age 13, said positions on the pitch are fluid: "All of us like to be out front because we want to score."
Molina said his sense of orientation, as well as his ability to read his environment by sound, are well-developed after years of commuting into the capital. During the week, he sings and plays guitar as part of "Los Hunos," a respected all-blind street band that draws a crowd even on rainy days as it plays outside a central subway station.
The six-team league is a rare outlet for the blind and visually impaired community, league president Javier Mosqueda Lomeli said. "For us, this is important because we have almost no recreational spaces. Here, we play soccer, the family comes. It's a way to let off steam after working all week."
Marco Antonio Camarillo, 53, who plays for Leones Negros, knew his wife was watching from the stands during Sunday's final.
"She is afraid of me being hit, or falling, but she shares my love of football," he said. Camarillo had several collisions during the game, but came away pleased that he was able to score a goal.
Canela said he thrives on the adrenaline.
"The goalie gets the hardest time, but I like playing rough," he said. "It hurts, it hurts. But then it goes away."
Italia eked out a 6-5 victory in the final. As the match ended, Leones Negros' Camarillo was engulfed in a group hug from his rivals on the winning team.
"On the court, as in the farthest corners of the Earth, there is rivalry, there are fights, there are spats," Molina said. "But socially, it's harmonious."